State-sponsored sexual and gender-based violence in Syria should be tried as a crime against humanity, 80 feminist and human rights organisations and well-known advocates said today — the day after the first criminal complaint on sexual and gender-based violence in detention facilities was filed in Germany on the 17 June 2020 by seven Syrian women and men, two syrian organisations; Urnammu, Syrian Women’s Network and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).
The organisations have launched a new campaign The Syrian Road to Justice, which calls on European governments to investigate, charge and prosecute acts of sexual and gender-based violence committed in detention facilities run by the Syrian intelligence as systematic crimes, sanctioned at the highest levels of government, rather than individual incidents.
Survivors of Syria’s conflict are being failed, they argue, by justice systems which need to include female practitioners and gender experts at every step of the litigation process. Funding for more female police officers, criminal investigators, lawyers, and judges would help survivors to speak up and seek justice.
Mona Zeineddine, Programmes Manager for Women Now for Development said:
“Close to ten long years of systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture by Syria’s government has not yet made it into a court room. We work with survivors who are broken by what they had to endure and the stigma and social discrimination they continue to face but their determination to secure justice must be heard. The seven survivors who have submitted the first criminal complaint are making history and paving the way for countless others to come forward.”
Sexual violence in Assad’s detention centres is widespread and systematic. Rape, sexual harrasment and abuse is used by state security forces with impunity against women, men and children as a tactic to instill fear in anyone who dares to call for freedom and democracy. Survivors face a lifetime of trauma and heartbreaking stigma, making most too afraid to seek justice or speak out about their experiences, sometimes even to their families or friends.
Five organisations — Badael, Dawlaty, Women Now for Development, the Syrian Female Journalists Network and The Syria Campaign — have joined forces to ensure the survivors they work with get the specialist support and practical services they need to seek justice and hold the perpetrators of abuse to account.
Dara Foi’Elle, Advocacy officer for Dawlaty said:
“Other countries must follow Germany’s lead and make sure war criminals are punished. The Syrian regime and its allied militias have perpetrated rape and sexual abuse during ground operations, house raids, and at checkpoints, and in official and unofficial detention facilities, all in an effort to punish and silence their critics. We must do everything possible to make sure these brutal tactics do not success and survivors of sexual violence are no longer silenced.”
Thuraya Hejazi, activist and survivor of detention said:
“The submission of the complaint is a big moment for survivors because it helps us feel less afraid to ask for our rights and demand justice. We are seeking justice for those who attacked our humanity. However, this cannot be achieved until governments all over the world come forward and prosecute war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Syria.”
The organisations are calling for:
- All international crimes committed during the Syrian conflict to be investigated and tried.
- Survivors of sexual violence to get the support and specialist services they need to seek justice and hold the perpetrators of abuse to account.
- Investigations must include female practitioners at every step of the litigation process in order to help survivors speak up for justice, including more female police officers, criminal investigators, lawyers, and judges.
- Governments to fund education and awareness initiatives to tackle social discrimination and stigma which causes greater suffering for survivors and prevents them from seeking justice.
Notes to editors
- To find out more and support the campaign go to
- Read the full statement and see full list of signatories here.
To arrange media interviews feel free to reach out to the spokespeople listed below directly or the campaign team via: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Mona Zeineddine is a human rights activist and Programmes Manager at Women Now for Development, based in London (Arabic and English) mona.zeineddine@women-now-org/ +447860 620690
Dara Foi’Elle is a human rights activist, blogger and advocacy officer at Dawlaty, based in Beirut (English, German, French, Arabic) email@example.com/ Whatsapp: +961 76 337 136
Thuraya Hejazi is a Syrian survivor of detention and a feminist activist. Thurya is not a SGBV survivor, but she has been working with survivors of sexual violence for the past three years. Implementing rehabilitation programmes, providing psycho-social support and networking with other groups of survivors to advocate for accountability and justice. She is also CEO and founder of Release Me,a grassroots CSO operating in Idlib, Syria.
Hayma A. Sakbani, an engineer, human rights activist and Project Coordinator at the Syrian Female Journalists Network, based in Turkey (English and Arabic) firstname.lastname@example.org/ Skype: hayma-alyousfi
Leen Barghouti is a researcher, feminist and Communications Officer at Badael, based in Berlin (Arabic and English) email@example.com/ +49 176 35 47 1230